PWTorch columnist Sean Radican reviews Night 1 of WWNLive’s big EVOLVE weekend tour in Florida during Royal Rumble weekend. Included is the first round of the EVOLVE Tag Tournament.
Lenny Leonard and Rob Naylor introduced the show before bringing out EVOLVE Champion Timothy Thatcher, who is out of action with a staph infection. Thatcher said he can’t wrestle because of a staph infection in his calf. Thatcher hinted it wasn’t so bad because tag team wrestling wasn’t his strong suite. Thatcher said he still had some things to turn his attention to. He said he needs to wrestle the man that won the first EVOLVE main event ever. He said he also owes Chris Hero one. He then turned his attention to Catch Point. He said he would hunt them down and take them out one by one. Caleb Konley ran into the ring with PAB and said that Konley hadn’t mentioned him. Konley said he had been in the top of the EVOLVE rankings for almost a year. Konley mentioned beating Thatcher in China in 2014. The rest of PAB joined him and Nese got on the mic talking about the PAB becoming the first ever EVOLVE Tag Team Champions. Thatcher eventually got the mic and said the fans didn’t want to hear anymore talking. He said they should start the tournament.
(1) The Bravados (Harlem & Lancelot Bravado) vs. Anthony Nese & Caleb Konley (w/The PAB) in a First Round EVOLVE Tag Team Title Tournament match. Neither team could get a sustained advantage during the early going. Harlem got cut off and the PAB began working him over. Harlem fired back and wiped out Nese with a running kick. He then sent Konley to Lance n assisted spinebuster for a 2 count. Lancelot got the tag and began working over Konley. Lancelot got cut off and took a combination of moves from Nese and Konley for a 2 count. Lancelot tried to fire back, but got slammed into the corner for a 2 count by Konley. Lancelot finally countered Nese and hit a belly-to-belly suplex. He tagged in Harlem, who ran wild on the PAB. Harlem and Konley went at it on the apron. Nese ran in out of nowhere and nailed Harlem with a big kick.
After a flurry of action, Harlem caught Konley with a big DDT through the ropes, but Nese nailed him with a kick. Harlem fired back and wiped out Nese with a huge running kick to knock him off the apron. He then followed up with a huge tope con hilo and the fans lost their minds. Harlem then lifted Konley onto his shoulders and Lancelot came through the ropes for a huge doomsday device variation. The Bravados nailed Konley with a big flurry of moves, but Nese made the save. Lancelot got isolated and Konley hit a double jump moonsault, but he managed to kick out. Lancelot rolled out of the way of a 450. The Bravados then hit the gentleman’s agreement on Nese, but he kicked out at the last second. The Bravados then nailed Nese with a tandem Gory special for the win.
WINNERS: The Bravado Brothers to advance to the Semi-Final round of the EVOLVE Tag Team Tournament.
Star rating: (***1/2) – The match started off very average, but they really turned up the heat during the second half of the match. The crowd really got into the match down the stretch as both teams built to a hot finish. My only quibble was all of the near falls down the stretch with this being the first match in the tournament.
The next match features wrestlers from the WWN Tryout camp.
(2) Joe Coleman vs. Jason Cade. Leonard mentioned the referee in this match also came from the last WWN Tryout camp. Cade hit a big hurricanrana early that sent Coleman to the floor. He followed up with a huge dive through the ropes that wiped out Coleman. Cade followed up with a huge flip dive over the top to the floor. Cade set for a DDT off the ropes to the floor. Coleman tried to fight it, but Cade managed to land it. Coleman fired back once they got into the ring with a uranagi for a 2 count. He then choked Cade with his feet on the ropes while doing pushups. Coleman followed up with a TKO, but Cade kicked out at 2. Cade mounted a comeback and hit a pair of running knees in the corner. He followed up with a double jump hurricanrana. Cade went up top and the fans fired up. He connected with a huge frog splash for the win.
WINNER: Jason Cade – This was short, but Cade’s high-flying was very impressive. He really got the crowd going with some jaw-dropping high flying.
(3) Peter Kassa (0-0) vs. Matt Riddle (w/Drew Gulak) (0-0) in a 2016 Style Battle Round Robin Tournament match. Riddle took Kassa down and nailed him with some big punches from the side mount. Riddle then went for a cross-arm breaker, but Kassa held his hands together before eventually getting his feet on the ropes. Riddle tried to lift up Kassa and dump him down to the mat, but Kassa escaped. They went back and forth and Kassa countered a suplex attempt. Kassa finally hit a Cactus clothesline on Riddle to send him to the floor, but added a twist by skinning the cat back into the ring. The fans fired up as Kassa landed a huge splash over the top to the floor. Holy s—t! Kassa went for a triangle, but Riddle drilled him with a one-arm powerbomb for a near fall. Riddle followed up with a giant fisherman buster for another 2 count. Riddle started nailing Kassa with knee strikes. Kassa went up top for a giant twisting splash on Riddle, but missed him completely. Ouch. That looked brutal. Riddle countered a powerbomb attempt from Kassa and got a heel hook. Kassa tried to fight it, but ended up having to tap out.
WINNER: Matt Riddle (1-0) – This was good while it lasted, but they didn’t go very long and Riddle won with another MMA-style submission. Kassa’s missed splash looked like it really sucked for him.
(4) Ethan Page vs. P.J. Black. This is part of the trial series that Page has requested from EVOLVE officials. Page wanted to shake hands, but Black wouldn’t do it. Black teased a test of strength, but took Page down with a nasty arm submission. Page ducked a springboard kick and eventually hit a fallaway slam on Black. Page blocked a kick and hit a German variation tossing Black up and over his head. Black fired back and hit an inverted DDT for a 2 count with a flip out of the corner a la A.J. Styles. They went back and forth. Page took a kick to the face, but hit a big DDT for a 2 count. Black countered a suplex attempt. He went for a roll out of the corner and hit a sit-out slam for a 2 count. Black went up top, but Page rolled out of the way. They went back and forth in the corner until Page nailed Black with a running boot to the face. Page then hit a sick powerbomb on Black that looked like it sent Black right onto his neck for a near fall. My heart went into my throat after that one connected. Page went for a slingshot ace crusher, but Black swatted him away. Black eventually got a back slide for a 2 count. Black hit a superkick and a quebrada off the top rope for a 2 count. They battled on the apron and Page drove him into the apron. He then hit the slingshot ace crusher. Page followed up with the spinning Dwayne for the win.
The fans booed as Black’s foot was under the ropes. Page looked unhappy after the match when he saw Black’s foot under the ropes. Page got on the mic and said he can’t accept the victory. He said it was time for him to copy the good parts of Johnny Gargano. He said if he wanted to be friends with Gargano, he needs to win the match the right way.
The match started and Black went for a rollup. Black then got a pinning combination on Page for the win.
WINNER: P.J. Black – This didn’t click for me. Black and Page didn’t have great chemistry in the ring and the fans weren’t into Page restarting the match. It wasn’t very satisfying to see Black beat Page with a pinning combination in the end.
(5) Team Tremendous (Bill Carr & Dan Barry) vs. RPG Vice (Rocky Romero & Trent) in a First Round EVOLVE Tag Team Title Tournament match. Barry hit a series of Japanese styles arm drags on Romero during the early going and Romero went to the corner to hug Trent. Carr tagged in and continued to work over Trent with some clubbing blows in the corner. Trent continued to take a beating from Team Tremendous. Trent fired back and caught Carr with a boot out of the corner before tagging in Romero. Trent and Romero nailed Carr with a combination of moves, but he got up and wiped them out with a double clothesline. Barry got the tag and ran wild. He wiped out Romero with a dive and then hit Trent with a quebrada for a 2 count. Trent ended up double stomping Barry into the mat out of the corner to cut him off. Trent and Romero tagged in and out to work over Barry. Trent and Romero nailed Barry with a combination of moves capped by a standing moonsault from Trent for a 2 count. Barry tried to tag out, but Trent caught him diving for a tag and nailed him with a big clothesline for a 2 count. Trent slowly went up top, but ended up missing a moonsault when Barry rolled out of the way. Carr got the hot tag and ran wild on Romero and Trent. Romero fired back and went for the forever clotheslines in the corner, but Carr ended up firing back with a HUGE lariat for a near fall. RPG Vice caught Carr with a double jumping knee strike a short time later, but Barry managed to tag into the match. RPG Vice nailed Barry with a combination of moves capped by a huge running knee from Trent for a near fall. Barry ducked another running knee attempt from Trent and got a pinning combination with a bridge for a near fall.
They did a big series of spots that ended with Carr wiping out Trent with a clothesline and everyone was down as the fans applauded. The pace picked right back up, as Barry and Trent went back and forth. Trent countered a quebrada with a superkick. He then nailed Barry with a running knee strike for another near fall. Team Tremendous nearly got a double pin as Barry nailed Trent with a move off the top as Carr hit a black hole slam on Romero at the same time. Team Tremendous set up for book it Danno, but Romero chopped out Carr’s knees. Trent hit a low blow on Barry as Romero distracted the ref. RPG then hit strong zero on Barry for the win.
WINNERS: Trent & Rocky Romero to advance to the Quarterfinal round of the EVOLVE Tag Team Title Tournament.
Star rating: (***1/4) – This was a good back and forth match. I was disappointed with another fluky type finish, as Trent hit a low blow on Barry to get the win when it appeared that Team Tremendous had their number on this night. Barry and Carr were a lot of fun to watch in this match.
(6) Fred Yehi (0-0_ vs. “Hot Sauce” Tracy Williams (0-0) in a 2016 Round Robin Style Battle Tournament match. Naylor gave some good background on Yehi during the early stages of the match. Williams and Yehi went back and forth on the mat during the early going before coming to a stalemate. A fan yelled, “Style Battle Baby!” Yehi grounded Williams and worked a side headlock. Williams fired back and went to work on Yehi. The match turned really physical as Williams continued to dominate the action. Yehi fired back with some big slaps, but Williams dropped him with a series of big slaps of his own. Williams tried to work over Yehi’s arm and the fans began clapping to start a rally. Yehi fired back and took down Williams. He followed up with a huge chop before ducking a clothesline and hitting a German followed by a fisherman buster for a 2 count. Wow! Yehi worked a body scissors submission. Williams tried to sit up, but Yehi slammed him down to the mat. Williams was about to get the ropes, but Yehi let him go and landed several kicks.
Williams got up and glared at him and they began exchanges slaps and forearms until Yehi managed to drop Williams. Yehi had a kimura in the corner, but Williams countered it into a shoulder breaker. Williams then really cranked on a crossface submission attempt, but Yehi managed to get the ropes. They went back and forth exchanging strikes. Yehi hit a headbutt, but Williams blocked a flurry of strikes and hit a huge clothesline for a 2 count. Yehi caught Williams with a discus forearm. He followed up with a big powerbomb for a 2 count. Yehi hit another rolling elbow on Williams as he tried to get to his feet, but Williams managed to kick out at the last second. They battled up top and Williams came off the ropes and hit a high angle DDT. He followed up with a big piledriver before choking him out for the win.
Williams helped Yehi up after the match. Yehi stumbled backwards, but ended up shaking hands with Williams.
WINNER: Tracy Williams (1-0)
Star rating: (***1/2) – This was a really good match with a ton of physical exchanges and good submission wrestling. This match really symbolizes what EVOLVE is all about. These two really lit each other up and delivered a fresh and exciting match.
Drew Galloway came out and said Gargano hadn’t arrived yet, as he was at the NXT tapings. Galloway said if it was alright with the fans, they could switch the card around and go next. Galloway then called Gargano to encourage him to get to the venue. The fans chanted for Gargano, who was presumably on the other end. Galloway then said he was leaving a message for Gargano to be as quick as possible. Trevin Adams came out to a big pop and Galloway told him that he’s over. Adams said they would do the Hero & End vs. Sabre & Callihan match right now.
Chris Hero and Tommy End came out to new music. Zack Sabre Jr. & Sami Callihan were out next to a good reaction. This is Callihan’s first match in EVOLVE since he left WWE. Sabre seemed taken aback by Callihan’s enthusiasm as they stood on the entrance ramp. Callihan got a big welcome back chant.
(7) Chris Hero & Tommy End vs. Zack Sabre Jr. & Sami Callihan in a First Round EVOLVE Tag Team Title Tournament match. Hero and Sabre shook hands before kicking things off. Both teams quickly came to a standoff in the middle of the ring and began jawing and shoving each other. Sabre went after Hero’s arm during the early going. He set up Hero’s arm for a foot stomp on the elbow, but Hero managed to get out of the way. Sabre went right back after Hero’s arm, but Callihan ended up making a blind tag when Hero drove Sabre into the corner. Callihan grabbed a headlock and Hero tried to escape with a suplex, but he couldn’t shake him off. Hero fired back and decked Callihan before nailing him with a big senton. End tagged in and hit a big kick to Callihan’s leg. Callihan went to the apron to sell the kick. Callihan nailed End with a big chop, but End fired back with three insane kicks. End went to make the cover, but Callihan kicked out at one. Holy s—t! Callihan had End stretched over his knee, but End nailed him with a knee strike to the head. Sabre tagged in and Callihan slapped End across the face before going to the apron. Sabre tied up End and went to work on his leg. They went back and forth on the mat. They got to their feet and both men went for kicks and countered each other. End finally nailed Sabre with a big kick. Sabre got up and fended off Hero and End. The action broke down and Hero wiped out Sabre and Callihan with a pair of big running kicks.
Sabre got isolated and Hero and End began tagging in and out to work him over. End nailed Sabre with a sick kick to the ribs. Hero and End took turns chopping and kicking Sabre in the corner. Hero then nailed Callihan with a kick on the apron that sent him to the floor. Wow! The fans tried to rally behind Sabre. Hero and End began targeting Sabre’s arm. Hero taunted Sabre and nailed him with some light kicks. Sabre fired back with a big slap, but Hero cut him off and dropped his knees down on Sabre’s mid-section. He eventually nailed Sabre with a big senton and then stepped on his chant again before taunting him. Hero nailed Sabre with a series of big chops. Sabre fired back with a headbutt. He eventually rolled through Hero and tagged in Callihan, who ran wild with kicks. Callihan eventually hit a delayed Saito suplex on Hero. He followed up with a diving forearm, but End made the save. Holy crap! Callihan ducked a pair of charges in the corner. End and Hero ended up stacked in the corner. Callihan wiped out Hero with a running knee strike in the corner. He then did the same to End. Callihan went for another knee strike on End, but Hero cut him off. Hero lifted up Callihan in the suplex position and End nailed him with a running knee strike as he was released for a near fall. OMG! Callihan rolled up End a short time later for a 2 count, but End sent him into the corner with a huge kick. They battled up top and Callihan went for a sunset bomb, but End back flipped out of it and hit a knee strike and a German for a near fall thanks to Sabre making the save.
They went to a big exchange of strikes between all four men that ended with Sabre nailing Hero with a tiger suplex and the fans lost their minds. Callihan went for a running kick on End, but Accidentally hit Sabre. They fired back and Sabre nailed End with a big kick to the head and Callihan followed up with a tombstone variation for a near fall. Wow! So much innovation in this match. Sabre went after End’s arm with some sick looking maneuvers to stretch it out. Sabre got an arm submission. Hero ran in, but Sabre refused to let go of it. Callihan then grabbed a choke sleeper as End was now tied up in a double arm submission. Hero drove Callihan into the corner and finally broke up the submission on End with a big senton and the fans applauded. Are you kidding me?
Hero nailed Sabre with a pair of big forearms and a back chop. Sabre fired back with some big kicks to Hero’s leg. End ran in and they hit a double knee strike to his head and then a total elimination with a rolling elbow for a near fall. This is insane! Hero taunted Sabre and told him to give up. He nailed Sabre with a short kick in the corner. Hero chopped Sabre and Sabre fired back with a slap to the face. Hero then wiped out Sabre with a pair of big forearms. Hero then nailed Sabre with machinegun chops and a short right hand. Hero went for a running kick, but Sabre rolled through into a bridging pin for a near fall! Hero fired back and hit a short piledriver and Sabre collapsed to the mat. Hero hit another short piledriver and the fans chanted for Hero to do it again. Callihan was still down on the outside. Hero set up for a third piledriver, but ended up setting him up on the top rope. Hero climbed up and set up for an avalanche piledriver. Callihan suddenly ran in and made the save, but End quickly tossed him to the floor. Callihan tossed End into the crowd. He then hit a running powerbomb on Hero and wiped out End with a huge dive. Sabre then nailed Hero with a soccer kick for a near fall.
Leonard asked what kind of shape the winners of this match would be in tomorrow. Hero set up Sabre for a ripcord elbow and nailed it for a near fall. End and Callihan were shown down on the floor. End fought off Callihan up top and then nailed him with a huge moonsault to the floor. Hero then went for the Gotch piledriver on Sabre, but he countered it into a guillotine choke. Sabre then grabbed a kimura, but Hero fought him off. Hero went for a rolling elbow, but Sabre got a flying arm bar. Hero got on top of Sabre. Suddenly End came off the top with a double stomp. Hero and End nailed Sabre with a flurry of kicks and elbows to get the win. This match was bananas.
After the match Hero and End went face-to-face with Callihan and Sabre on the floor. They shook hands with Callihan and then they all helped Sabre to his feet to carry him to the back.
WINNERS: Tommy End & Chris Hero to advance to the Semi-Final Round of the EVOLVE Tag Team Tournament.
Star rating: (****3/4) – This match was amazing. All four men beat the living hell out of each and delivered and innovative and exciting match in the process that set the crowd on fire. The exchanges down the stretch were mind-blowing. These were truly four of the best in the world having a fight.
Drew Galloway came out alone for the main event and said Gargano hadn’t gotten to the building yet. He said he had a couple of options. He said his first option was to forfeit the match and they would be eliminated from the tag tournament. He said his section option was to face those two idiots himself. Ethan Page came out and asked for the mic. He said he had a third option for Galloway. Page said Galloway needed a partner and he was willing to do it. He said if they won tonight, he would give up his spot to Gargano. Galloway ran down Page for turning on Gargano. He told Page if he wanted to earn his respect back, he could do it by getting out of the ring right now. Galloway said that wasn’t very sensible of him to do. He then nailed Perkins and Gulak with a double clothesline to kick off the match.
(8) Drew Galloway vs. T.J. Perkins & Drew Gulak (w/Catch Point) in a First Round EVOLVE Tag Team Title Tournament match. Gulak got on Galloway’s back, but he dropped him down with a side slam. Galloway caught Perkins coming off the turnbuckles like a fly and nailed him with a back breaker. He then suplexed Perkins into Gulak, who went flying to the floor. Wow! Perkins pulled the ropes on Galloway, who spilled to the floor. Gulak began working him over on the floor with the ref distracted. Gulak tossed Galloway back into the ring and Perkins began working him over. Perkins and Gulak tagged in and out to work over Galloway. They grabbed a pair of knee bars on Galloway at one point. Gulak let go, but Galloway had to get to the ropes to get Perkins to break his knee bar. Perkins continued to target Galloway’s leg. Galloway tried to mount a comeback and eventually he slammed Perkins down on top of Gulak and the fans applauded.
Perkins and Gulak quickly fired back and wiped out Galloway with a series of strikes. The winners of this match will face the Bravado Brothers at EVOLVE 54. Leonard also teased William Regal’s big announcement on the show. Galloway continued to take a beating as Naylor talked about the Observer Awards incessantly. Galloway tried to fight out of the corner, but Gulak cut him off. Galloway eventually caught Perkins flying at him in the corner and he then powerbombed him on top of Gulak, who had served as a bridge for Perkins to jump off of.
Gargano ran down to the ring and got on the apron. The fans fired up huge and Gargano got the hot tag and ran wild. Gargano cleaned house and wiped out Gulak with a big dive through the ropes before taking out Perkins with a huge DDT as the fans chanted his name. Galloway and Gargano went for a double team on Perkins, but Gulak broke it up. Gargano and Galloway nailed Gulak with an enzuguri/kick to the face combination. Gargano and Galloway went for a double superplex, but Perkins broke it up. They went to a big series of spots that ended with Gulak nailing Gargano with a clothesline off the top and everyone was down. The fans fired up as everyone tried to regroup. Gulak whipped Gargano and Perkins pulled the ropes. Gargano crashed to the floor and Perkins and Gulak nailed Galloway with a tandem x-factor. Gargano ran in, but Perkins put him in an ankle lock. Gulak put Galloway in an ankle lock at the same time. Gargano then pushed Perkins off into Gulak to break up the submissions. Gargano got the Gargano escape on Perkins. Galloway then went for a future shock DDT on Gulak, but he rolled through and got a pinning combination for a 2 count.
Gargano blocked several strikes and kicks from Perkins before wiping him out with a clothesline. Perkins fired back and hit an inside out dropkick on the apron on Gargano. Galloway then booted Perkins to the floor. Galloway nailed Gulak with a big clubbing blow. He then hit the future shock DDT on Gulak. Galloway hit a second future shock DDT on Gulak. He limped around the ring before lifting up Gulak again. Gulak shrugged off another future shock DDT and went for a couple of strikes, but there was nothing behind them. Galloway nailed Gulak with a big kick to the face and another future shock DDT for the win.
Catch Point checked on Gulak after the match. He finally rolled to the floor and they helped him to the back.
WINNERS: Drew Galloway & Johnny Gargano to advance to the Semi-Final Round of the EVOLVE Tag Team Tournament.
Star rating: (***1/2) – This was a very good match with the obvious setup of Gargano finally arriving at the venue when things looked to be nearly over for Galloway. The match really heated up once Gargano got involved. The finish didn’t seem to fit the tone of the match, as there hadn’t been a ton of kick outs out of finishers, but that’s small quibble.
Overall Thoughts: (8.0) – There were some really good matches up and down the card. The highlight was the Sabre & Callihan vs. Hero & End match, which is a must-see. I would put this match right up there with the last two matches on Wrestle Kingdom X earlier this month. I don’t think it was as good as Okada-Tanahashi, but it was damn close and holds up with what the best the Tokyo Dome show from NJPW had to offer.
The first half of the card featured several matches that didn’t get a lot of time, but other than the Page-Black match, everything was really entertaining. The main event was very good, but it was impossible for Gulak & Perkins vs. Galloway & Gargano to follow the Sabre & Callihan vs. Hero & End match. The replay of “EVOLVE 53 is recommended.
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